Sunday, July 26, 2015

EPIC: Week 5, Act 4


“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2.

Life’s milestones mark the generational seasons of our earthly lives. Childhood birthday parties fade, graduation parties take their place. The celebrations of friends’ and our weddings yield to baby showers and birth announcements. The cycle repeats with our children—their birthdays, graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren. Somber funerals—once rare with the deaths of great-grandparents—become more frequent with the deaths of grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends’ parents, our parents.  Then the funerals far outnumber all other milestones and the obituary page lists friends, neighbors and family of our generation.  At my stage of life (age 68), I begin to feel that I attend too many funerals-- the temptation to despair is great. Yet some bring indelible memories that remind me of the hope inherent in the epic story.

I remember the funeral for our second son, Matthew.  Born with Downs Syndrome, Matthew’s 21 months of life on earth gave our family great gifts, not the least of which came with his death during heart surgery in 1977.  That’s when my husband and I told each other “Now I’ll never be afraid of death” because we knew that would bring a reunion with Matthew.

I remember the funeral for my father-in-law just a year and a half after Matthew’s death.  My mother-in-law told our then-6-year-old son Chris “We’ll never see Grandpa again.”  I explained to Chris that Grandma was sad because she wouldn’t be able to see and do things with Grandpa like she used to, but that that we would indeed, after what might seem like a long time, see Grandpa again in heaven.

I remember my mother’s funeral in 2008.  Five years after my father’s death following years with
Alzheimer’s, Mom prayed that her death would, when it came, come quickly with no years in a nursing home.  The Lord heard that prayer; Mom died following a massive stroke from which she never regained consciousness. At her funeral service, "Amazing Grace" was the last hymn, including the third verse often neglected or rarely remembered before the resonating last phrase of the last stanza:

The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures . . . And grace will lead me home.

I remember the funeral for Michelle Bell, a friend from “senior” classes at the YMCA. Hers was a military funeral honoring her years in the Air Force.  One remark made by the officiant stayed with me. He said that many of us would say to Michelle’s husband “Sorry for your loss.”  He challenged us on that language—telling us that “loss” signals not knowing where something or someone is and reminding us that we all knew precisely where Michelle was at that moment: in heaven, in the presence of God. 

I remember the memorial service for Willard Snider, long-time LPC member and father to a friend and then-graduate-student of mine, Cathy Riggin.  At the service, Cathy spoke about two enduring memories of her father. One was of family vacations, where the return home and the turn into the home driveway was always marked by her father’s announcing “Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig!”  The other was the daily routine of childhood when her father’s work day ended and his entry through the front door was greeted by Cathy and her siblings announcing “Daddy’s home!” Then Cathy shared that for her, Willard’s death marked God’s message that “Daddy’s home—jiggedy-jig!”

Eventually, my generation will experience the last earthly milestone; it will be our time to go to our eternal home. And I begin to wonder what aspects of my funeral people might remember.  If I were planning my own funeral, what scripture would I want read?  What memories or thoughts would I want people to share? What music would I choose? In God’s Story, Your Story, Max Lucado tells a story about how Winston Churchill thought about such questions:

The prime minister planned his own funeral. According to his instructions, two buglers were positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  At the conclusion of the service, the first one played taps, the signal of a day completed. Immediately thereafter, with the sounds of the first song still ringing in the air, the second bugler played reveille, the song of a day begun.

In thinking about my funeral, I don’t envision a bugler, but I do hope that the last echoes might affirm Revelation 19: 1-8—maybe Mozart’s Alleluia  or the final chorus of Handel’s Messiah in one last and loud AMEN!


"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." - John 6:40

As I was reading this chapter, I was sitting outside on the deck on a beautiful, DRY evening.  The golden sun was starting to set behind brilliant verdant trees, swaying just slightly in the balmy breeze.  Flower pots exploded with cascading vines and butter yellow blooms.  Birds were singing their unique songs, competing for attention.  A rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker cut through the delicate notes of the songbirds.  The brilliant azure sky of the day was just fading slightly into the soft blue of a robin's egg, cottony clouds drifting lazily across it.  So peaceful, so gorgeous, so glorious.  I was picturing heaven to be just like that.

But boy, have we had a lot of rain!  Storms, humidity, lightning flashes, floods, and thunder have marked many of this summer's days.  Terrible stories of deaths in flood areas across the country have been on the news.  At the beach last week, riptide warnings and red flags marked the shore. And that's just the weather.  Our world seems in constant turmoil - horrific shootings, economic crises, and escaped convicts have permeated the news since spring.  How we long for peace and beauty.

The promise that it will come, and not just on random days, but every day - permanently, eternally - is so amazing.  The feeling I had in June when amidst family and friends on Libby and Jamie's wedding day, celebrating their joy, love, and marriage, will be ours forever some day.  How exciting!  We will enjoy the original glory that God intended for us for eternity.  Hallelujah!

After reading Nina's reflection, I thought I'd share the two songs that I would want at my funeral.  They reflect my hope and joy for reunions with loved ones, joining my God and Savior, and an everlasting life:

I Can Only Imagine by MercyMe

When I Get Where I'm Going by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton

Discussion Questions—Epic Act Four

And they lived happily ever after.

1. Think of the stories that you love. Remember how they “end.” Describe a few of your favorite endings.

2. What would “happily ever after” look like for you?

Every story has an ending. Every story. Including yours. Even if you do manage to find a little taste of Eden in this life, you cannot hang on to it. You know this. Your health cannot hold out forever. Age will conquer you. One by one your friends and loved ones will slip from your hand. Your work will remain unfinished. Like every other person gone before you, you will breathe your last breath.

3. And then what? What does God promise as the end of the story?

4. What about heaven do you look forward to?

5. Will everyone enjoy this promise of a happy ending? Why or why not? Why is this such a difficult question?


Continue writing your story by writing out the conclusion.  How will your story of this life end?  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

EPIC: Act Three

We just returned from a week on the beach in Florida with my family to celebrate Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary.  Our week together seemed to reflect this chapter's themes.  First, the glory of nature...
The ocean's vastness, beauty, and power always brings to mind God's creativity and majesty.  From the shore birds running along the sand to dolphin fins emerging above the water to the steady strength of the surf, God's creation is humbling.  It is both peaceful and powerful - reflections of God's own image.

Holly Mueller's photo.

Next, the legacy of love...

This coming August, my mom and dad will have been married for 50 years.  That's a long time.  No one arranged their marriage or forced them into it.  They chose each other, and because they were intentional, faithful, and devoted to their marriage, it has lasted.  My husband, Ed, and I are so fortunate to both have parents in long-lasting marriages.  They've provided a legacy and promise that love lasts when built on a firm foundation, and now we've been married for 26 years.  Thank God we live in a country and time when we could choose our spouses and that we serve a God that gives us a framework for marriage.

All those years, though, pale in comparison to the infinity of time God has loved us.

Last, even though we experience and practice Earthly love, we fall short and need a Savior...

We had a great time at the beach and had fun with each other, but that week has come and gone, ending the second of the two major celebrations this summer that have been in planning for almost a year (the first was the marriage of our oldest daughter to Jamie, her college sweetheart).  Time is so fleeting.  It seems to go by faster the older I get.

God, though, is forever, and we certainly fall short of loving Him.  We also fall short of loving each other as perfectly as we should - we can be selfish and short-tempered. We complain and get lazy. We are easily distracted and caught up in trivial things. We're easily stressed and fatigued. We're rebellious. Eldredge says, "At the point of our deepest betrayal, when we had run our farthest from him and gotten so lost we could never find our way home, God came and died to rescue us.  You have never been loved like this.  He has come to save you in every way a person can be saved.  That is God's heart toward you."  Wow.  Thank you, God, for providing us people to love here in this temporary world.  Our spouses, family, and friends make it a joyful place to live.  My heart has been full as I celebrated a wedding and an anniversary, but I know this heart is only a tiny fraction of the heart you have for us.  Thank you for giving us free will, and when we fall short, thank you for forgiving us.

Thank you for your beautiful creation, having the free will to love each other and you, and being our rescuer when we fail.


In The Story of God, the Story of Us, Sean Gladding tells the epic biblical story as it may have been told before the Bible was a book—as an oral tradition imparted by wise elders.  The following excerpts gleaned and edited from his chapter “Catastrophe,” illuminate what John Eldridge describes as the Battle for the Heart.  

The story begins with a lie: “You will be like God.”  The tempter taps into our deepest anxiety as humans: that what I have and who I am is not enough.  So Adam and Eve exercised the freedom God had given them and disobeyed God’s prohibition.  How could they take what was prohibited when they were surrounded by so much that was freely given? What are we capable of doing when we think we do not have enough?  When we think we are not enough? Adam and Eve—and we--make an ethical determination, deciding for ourselves, independently of God, what it is good for us to do.  Like Adam and Eve, when confronted with our disobedience, when caught sinning, instead of taking responsibility for our own actions, we try to blame someone else.  Self-protection becomes our first concern; trust evaporates.  Yet, just as God called out to Adam and Eve, God calls to us. We, like them, may try to hide, to isolate ourselves, to be alone with our sin and shame, but God is constantly seeking the lost.  God asks “Where are you?” not out of anger, but in a gracious invitation to once more make us vulnerable—before God, before each other. It is an invitation to speak the truth about our sin, an invitation to be found. From the very beginning of our story, God extends grace to us.  God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  We cannot deal with our sin, but God can, will, and does.

The “Catastrophe” story leaves us with questions: questions that I invite you to ponder with me .

What lies am I all too willing to believe?

     That the old GE slogan (“Progress is our most important product”) is correct.

     That my sins are not so bad—not like murder or theft—totally ignoring  1 Timothy 1:15.

Why do I not trust God to determine what is good for me?

     Because I like the feeling of being in control, even though I know I’m not.

     Because God’s definition of “good” isn’t the same as the world’s definition.

How shall I answer when God calls out “Where are you?”

     To be honest, on too many days  the answer would be “Hang on, I’ll be there when I finish this important task.”

     On my worst days, my response would be “So NOW you want to know—when I’ve been wondering lately where YOU are!”

     But the best days are when I reply “Right here—ready to follow you.”

Discussion Questions—Epic Act Three (Video includes ACT TWO since last week I accidentally embedded just the preview to the video and couldn't fix it while I was in Florida!)

John Eldredge describes creation in a panorama of wonders. 

1. What in creation takes your breath away? How would you describe it to someone?
2. Lingering in the thought of Creation, what does Eden tell you about God, his desire for man, and the life we were meant to live?
3. Have you thought about “original glory” before? What does the idea stir in you?

Essential to “original glory” is the capacity to love. And with the incredible dignity of that gift, came the freedom to reject—not love—God.  

4. Why did God give you a free will?
5. To what or to whom have you given your heart in the past? To whom or to what have you most recently given it?

The Evil One hates God, hates anything that reminds him of the glory of God . . . wherever it exists. Unable to overthrow the Mighty One, he turned his sight on those who bore God’s image.

6. What lies does Satan tell us?

Deceived by Satan’s lies, we turn our backs on God, relying on our selves. The challenge God faces is rescuing a people who have no idea how captive they are; no real idea how desperate they are.

7. When have you felt in need of rescue? When has life become overwhelming?  Is it hard to ask for help? Why?


Creation is a glorious event we all too often rush through. But we must linger on the wonder and beauty of the world and life God intended for us to enjoy. Recall moments when you saw glimmers of the life that God intended for you. How has God acted as savior, beginning to restore your true identity to its original glory?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

EPIC: Act Two


My aunt Judy used to talk about angels, and she described them as "big, hairy angels," which used to make me laugh.  However, after reading Act Two, she was absolutely right!  The angels of God aren't sweet, wimpy cherubs, they're fierce and powerful!  This gives me comfort because they're up against Satan, the antagonist of antagonists - more dangerous than Voldemort, Darth Vader, and the wickedest of witches put together. 

I love the evolution of the Harry Potter books as Voldemort, "He who must not be named," struggles to gain power throughout the series.  One thing that sets Harry apart is his willingness to call the villain by name.  Avoidance of his name actually strengthens Voldemort.  Acknowledging the villain's name strips away that power.  I can't help but think it's the same with Satan.  Acknowledging who he is and not being afraid to confront him, weakens him.

Besides giving him a name, I'm not sure exactly what it means to live as if our story has a villain.  Perhaps it means to equip yourself as Jesus did with the WORD: "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." - Ephesians 6: 17  Or maybe it means to avoid the dangerous trap of so many non- or doubting believers who say, "What kind of God would let so and so happen?!" We can avoid it because we know it's not God who "lets" evil happen, it's Evil itself causing it to happen.  It's a fallen world that we've been born into, and that's why bad things occur every day. 

What I can be sure of, though, is living as if our story has a HERO.  The protagonist of protagonists!  More victorious than Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Glinda put together.  He was the ruler of the universe before we came into being, and He will continue to be the ruler until He ultimately defeats Satan. 

Sometimes I feel defeated by Evil.  With media telling us the horrid details of school and church shootings, beheadings of Christians, child abuse, etc., it seems as if the Villain is winning.  But we can "Be still and know He is God" - Psalm 46:10  We know who will win this war.

Steven Curtis Chapman's response to the Charleston shootings:

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” Revelation 5:11.

 “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14

This past winter I joined the Wednesday Nights Together class to read a book I had long intended to read (but never had): The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. The book is a series of letters  purported to have been written by Screwtape, one of Satan’s minions, who has been given charge of his nephew Wormwood, an “apprentice” devil, as Wormwood seeks to guide his first human charge to (in the language of Star Wars) “the dark side.”  The class listened to an audio version of the book in which John Cleese voiced the letters, lending a snide, sneering English-accented voice to Screwtape’s contempt for “the Enemy” (God) and sniveling devotion to “our Father below” (Satan).  Despite Screwtape’s guidance in all the devices that might steer Wormwood’s “patient” toward renouncing  Christianity, especially in the context of the early days of World War II, Wormwood fails in his task.  In the penultimate letter, Screwtape describes what to him is the horror of the patient’s dying without having been “converted.”

As he [the dying patient] saw you, he also saw Them . . .The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. . .He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realized what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not “Who are you?” but “So it was you all the time.” All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories . . .that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered.

As I read this letter, simultaneous thoughts entered my mind: John’s vision in Revelation, the old TV series "Touched by an Angel," and Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  My thoughts echoed what John Eldredge writes about Act 2 of the epic story: “we live in two worlds—or in one world with two halves, part that we can see and part that we cannot” (p. 33). I wonder:

What beings will I recognize in heaven that I did not recognize in my earthly life? 

When have I supposed myself to be alone when unseen/unrecognized beings have been playing a part in my life?

The world tells me that “Seeing is believing.”  Yet I am coming to understand that “Believing is seeing.” Maybe our shared online experience is one way our eyes can be opened to seeing all the characters who surround us in our part of God’s epic story.

Discussion Questions—Epic Act Two


“One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death, disease, and sin . . .Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong.  Christianity agrees  . . . this is a universe at war.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
In the common epic story arc described in the prologue, there is a great battle to be fought; there is an antagonist for every protagonist.

1. Why does every story have a villain? 

The Bible contains evidence of spiritual warfare waged between beings allied with God and those allied with Satan, beings often unrecognized or unseen by people. We are not alone.  This universe is inhabited by other beings; we share the stage with other players.

2. React to this reality. What does this stir up in you? 
3. What does it mean to live as though your story has a villain?
4. What questions does the reality of evil raise for you?
5. Who have you blamed for the pain and sorrows of life?

6. Have you ever felt “the Devil made me do it”?

It seems there two extremes when it comes to the devil.  We either live as if he doesn’t exist or we are so focused upon him that we see him behind every bad thing that happens.  What extreme have you been more prone to? What in your life, your story, do you now understand may very well have been the work of the villain?  What has he tried to steal, kill, or destroy in your past? What is he currently assaulting you with (lies, shame, guilt, temptation)?

Sunday, July 5, 2015




“We need to know that love is real, that it endures, that a world of love is planned for us and waits for us, and that we can count on it.” John Eldredge, Epic, p. 26.
As I think about writing my life story, I know that it begins long before my birth.  So much of who I am is linked to all the family that preceded my coming into the world.  Especially my parents.  Over the years, as I was growing up and even now after both parents have been reunited in heaven, I learned more and more about their lives.
My mother, Jane, was the daughter of Clara and Austin, and had an older brother.  Living on Chicago’s south side, her childhood was one of sidewalk games, going to the Methodist church, and a circle of close girlfriends (who together sneaked away to visit the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair).  She was the first in her family to graduate from high school.  Still in her early 20s, with World War II calling men into the armed forces, Jane became the manager of a local Jewel (the Chicago version of Kroger) store.
My father, Willis, was the son of Lydia and Arthur, and had two younger sisters.  Raised in Rock Island, Illinois, his childhood was one of home chores (trimming wicks and filling kerosene lamps), fishing with his father, school, and church. He played the bassoon well enough to get a partial scholarship to supplement his savings from a series of part-time jobs to enable him to be a “commuter” student at Augustana College—the first in his family to go to college.  A graduate assistantship (tutoring first year Spanish students) enabled him to earn a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois. Passing his CPA exam with flying colors, Willis moved to Chicago to begin work at the Arthur Andersen accounting firm—a career that lasted until his retirement.
Willis and Jane didn’t meet in Chicago, but at a Lake of the Ozarks resort where both went on vacation with friends.  There, they found that they lived in the same apartment building, but entered through doors on different intersecting streets.  Love blossomed quickly, but Willis’s entry in the Navy postponed their marriage until the end of the war.
Their marriage, in many ways, was a composite of every 1950s family sitcom.  Willis commuted to work from their suburban home in Westchester, and was a model active citizen—serving on the local school board and as Sunday School “superintendent.”   Jane was a housewife and volunteer extraordinaire—Girl Scout leader, school room mother, volunteer at the local VA hospital, Sunday School teacher.
Throughout their marriage, their devotion to each other, their daughters (my sister and me), and God was palpable—never more so than the last years of their life together when Willis lived with Alzheimer’s.
Like the Epic Story John Eldridge describes, my story has a golden past bathed in love.  Once upon a time.
"For God has, may I remind you, set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11)." - John Eldredge
My mom recently gave me a stack of letters that she had written to my grandparents, her parents, during her pregnancy with me and the first year of my life.  My grandmother had kept them, and when she passed away, Mom retrieved them back.  Each one was lovingly written in her beautiful, careful script, full of excitement and preparation awaiting my birth, and when I came the day after Christmas, full of unconditional love.  Reading and handling each one gives me a sense of belonging.  I was waited for and wanted.  Loved and cherished.  I wrote a poem after reading the first one:
Mom about 5 months pregnant with me in 1966
It was only days
until December 25th, 1966,
the day
I was supposed to be born.
Festive lights twinkled                                       
on Baker Avenue,
festooning apartments
in Cincinnati.
I was waited for,
dreamt about.
The nursery
was decorated
with a clown lamp,
and my mother sat in the
rocker and imagined
2:00 am feedings with
its 25 watt bulb,
dim and peaceful.
A scotch pine stood watch                                           
in the balcony window,
and unfallen snow
weighed heavy in the
steel gray clouds,
for a white Christmas
and a baby
to arrive.

How blessed we are when we're wanted and loved.  The decorations in my nursery were picked out specifically for me, baby clothes bought, washed, and folded into drawers, a lamp placed by a rocker for late night feedings.  My story began before I was even born, and it was full of love.  Amazing.
Not everyone was as fortunate as I, though.  Some children are born into broken homes, poverty, abuse, already addicted to drugs, or are unwanted.  Not everyone begins life with a decorated nursery and parents who love each other and await to love their children.  Regardless of whether or not your Earthly parents awaited you with loving anticipation, you can be assured your Heavenly Father did; once upon a time He knitted you together in the womb, loved you before and at birth, and He loves and awaits you now, carefully preparing a place for you in Heaven.  The lamp is already on.
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." -  Psalm 139:13
Discussion questions Act One: Eternal Love

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” John 1: 1-2 (NIV)
1. Consider this second “In the beginning” scripture:
a. What is the apostle John describing in these verses?
b. What does this passage say about “the beginning” of the Story?
c. What does the passage say about God?
d. For starters, what did this chapter in Epic stir up in you? New thoughts, questions, an “ah ha” moment?
2. The Triune God is ultimately relational. Our origins are relational, and this is why we are relational, for we are created in His image. What does it mean to say that we are relational? How does that help your understanding of the Trinity?
3. On page 24-25, John writes about the feeling of belonging when he visits his grandfather’s ranch. Tell a story about a time when you felt you belonged to a larger story.
4. How have you felt the longing to belong in your life—both in your youth and today?
5. One of the realities of a Larger Story is that Life is not all about you. You’re precious, important, and valuable; you have a crucial role to play.  But this story is about something bigger than you.  How does that make you feel?
6. Have you thought of God as being part of your story this week?  How? Conversely, have you thought of yourself as being part of God’s story this week?  How?

Continue to fill in the various seasons of your life with the good as well as the painful memories you’ve experienced through others.  Include those times you were invited up and into some unfolding fellowship (or the times you wish you had been).  Add those memories to the story you began to write last week.